IDC Energy Insights Predictions for 2012 Utilities Industry

I recently attended IDC Energy Insights Predictions 2012:  Utilities conference call today.  I look forward to the IDC Insights series of conference calls every year as it helps me understand the critical issues and trends that impact Information Technology decisions within a particular industry. 

In this case, the predictions were focused on the Utilities industry with an emphasis on North American issues.  There are other calls coming up that focus on Europe and Asia.   

Leading the conference call was the IDC Energy Insights team of Jill Feblowitz, Jay Holman, Sam Jaffe, Usman Sindhu, Casey Talon and Marcus Torchia

Summary and Key Themes

IDC Energy Insights says in 2012, the industry is entering a ‘post stimulus’ period.  While funding has dried up, there are areas where investment spending is growing, such as Solar PV installations.   Other investment areas include Smart Grid, Smart Buildings, Electric Vehicles, and Energy Storage.

The 2012 predictions list below was sourced from the conference call slides.

  1. Smart Meters. “Smart meters will peak in 2012, propelling demand response, but spending tempered for now”.
  2. Smart Grids. “Distribution automation will lead smart grid control investments with 13% CAGR”
  3. Smart Buildings. “Smart building technology investments will gain more traction with utilities”
  4. Electric Vehicles. “120,000 plug-in electric vehicles will be sold in North America in 2012”
  5. Lithium Batteries. “Lithium-Ion large format batteries will reach $600 per kWh by the end of the year”
  6. Solar PV Installations. “Despite the 1603 Treasury Grant expiring in 2011, PV installations will grow by >25% in 2012”
  7. Commercial PV. “>60 MW of commercial PV installations will incorporate micro-inverters or DC optimizers in 2012”
  8. Security & Risk. “Security and risk will continue to grab decision maker’s attention, leading to increased budgets”
  9. Big Data Analytics. “Utilities will invest in analytics in anticipation of big data”
  10. IT Spending. “IT spending by North American utilities will increase by 4.5% % over the next four years”

For More Information

MIT Technology Review: 10 Emerging Technologies of 2010

MIT Tech Review May-Jun_2010_cover The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review (http://www.technologyreview.com/) has released its annual report on 10 Emerging Technologies of 2010.   I always look forward to this annual article for it consistently reports on the interesting work going on in labs and academic institutions.  The articles also provide a human element, telling us about the person behind the work, the problems they are trying to solve, and how they have worked hard to innovate in the field they are researching.

The list of 10 emerging technologies MIT presents in this article have the potential to create fundamental shifts in areas from energy to healthcare, computing to communications.  Any one of them have the potential to significantly impact our lives. 

Some of the listed technologies could reach the market within the year, others may take years, but all are expected to have a huge impact in the years ahead.  Regardless of when they do hit the market, all of them are interesting to read and think about. 

Here the list along with my summary and some links for more information.

  1. Real-Time Search:   Real-time search tools will help us filter out all the social and advertising noise and deliver to us the information we need when we need it.  The article provides us insights into the work of Amit Singhal of Google, who is trying to develop up-to-the-second search results from social networks that offer the same relevance and quality we’ve come to expect from traditional Web searches.  Check out Singhal’s page at http://singhal.info/
  2. Mobile 3-D:   Get ready for Mobile 3-D apps.  The same buzz we are hearing today about how cool 3D movies and TVs are will make its way to smart phones.  Researcher Julien Flack of Dynamic Digital Depth is working hard on developing technology that can convert existing 2-D content to 3-D on the fly.
  3. Engineered Stem Cells:   There’s more and more research going on these days into stem cells and scientists are figuring out ways of engineering stem cells. James Thomson of Cellular Dynamics and the University of Wisconsin is developing an innovative way to engineer stem cells in a test tube.  His breakthroughs have the potential to revolutionize the way we study/treat diseases and develop beneficial drugs.
  4. Solar Fuel:   Scientists are working hard at developing alternative and renewable fuels.  Biofuels is one alternative source of energy that may eventually compete with fossil fuels  MIT provides us with insights into the biofuel research of Noubar Afeyan of Joule Biotechnologies.  Afeyan and his team at Joule have successfully created genetically engineered micro-organisms that can turn sunlight into ethanol or diesel.
  5. Light-Trapping PhotovoltaicsKylie Catchpole of the Australian National University is experimenting with ways to improve the overall potential of solar power as an alternative energy source.   Catchpole has figured out how to use nanoparticles in a way to boost the efficiency of solar cells — an advance that could help make solar power more competitive with fossil fuels.
  6. Social TV:     It’s only a matter of time before we are able to combine, in real-time, our love for social networking with our love for our favorite TV shows.  MIT’s Marie-José Montpetit is working on research related to embedding social networking activities into our TV watching experience.    
  7. Green Concrete:   Nikolaos Vlasopoulos of Novacem has figured out a way to store carbon dioxide in cement during the manufacturing process.  This could be a big boost to the effort to reduce carbon emissions because is estimated that the production of cement could be responsible for as much as 5% of the global carbon emissions.  Read up on the technology here http://novacem.com/technology/novacem-technology/ 
  8. Implantable Electronics:   Future generations will benefit from nano-size drugs and electronic devices that can be implanted in our bodies and then dissolve after their job/task has been completed.  Fiorenzo Omenetto from Tuft University has been researching implantable electronic devices that can be used to deliver drugs, stimulate nerves, monitor biomarkers, and more.
  9. Dual-Action Antibodies:   Reducing the number of drugs patients take can have beneficial impact on quality of life.   Genentech’s Germaine Fuh is working on research related to using dual-action antibodies in drugs that can give patients two drugs for the price of one.
  10. Cloud Programming:   It’s safe to say that Joseph Hellerstein’s mind has been in the clouds lately.  Hellerstein, of the University of California, Berkeley, has been working to create Cloud programming languages that help developers build better cloud applications.    This work could lead to a new wave of Internet-enabled applications, including social media analysis, enterprise computing, or sensor networks monitoring for earthquake warning signs.

Much more information is available online.  I suggest you start at the article and then follow links related to the topics that you are interested in.  http://www.technologyreview.com/specialreports/TR10.

Scientific American: 20 World Changing Ideas in Science

Scientific American 20 World Changing Ideas Scientific American published an article back in December titled “World Changing Ideas” that caught my eye.   The article provides a laundry list of ideas that Scientific American says have the potential to improve our lives and our planet.  The magazine has been running similar articles on an annual basis for a number of years.

The December article covers ideas in five general categories (Energy,Transportation, Environment, Electronics, and Health) that highlight the power of science and technology to improve the world.

Here’s a summary of some of the 20 ideas from this article

Energy

  • Pay for solar panels on your house like you pay for a house mortgage.
  • Biofuels from genetically engineered plants.
  • Innovations in Nuclear Power production that can stem nuclear proliferation
  • Smart meters in the home
  • Wind Power harvested from a fleet of high-flying giant kites or windmills

Transportation

  • Plug-in hybrid trucks for short-haul cargo trips
  • Subway-like bus lines

Environment

  • Someday the oceans might be regulated by a worldwide marine planning and zoning committee
  • Harvesting energy trapped in garbage via a technology called plasma gasification
  • Cement that naturally absorbs carbon dioxide as it hardens
  • Introducing new honeybee colonies to our farms
  • Developing crops that can handle saltwater

Electronics

  • HP’s Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE) project
  • Smartphones that can act as real-time language translators
  • Advances in Personal Robotics

Health

  • Biomarkers can help understand the causes of complex diseases
  • Satellites can help track and predict the spread of diseases
  • Better and cheaper ways to help blood clot quicker
  • Performing blood tests in real time by putting a drop of blood on a computer chip
  • Innovations in dental care.

The 20 ideas above are all interesting and innovative trends in science and technology.  Some I would say are more ‘world changing’ than other ideas.  And I am sure we could all come up with another 20 trends / ideas in science that are not listed above.

There’s much more detail in the article.  Scientific American articles are available to subscribers only, but at the time of the writing of this post, I found the article at Scribd here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/23475128/20-World-Changing-Ideas.  Also…you can listen to a podcast where Scientific American magazine Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina and editor Michael Moyer talk about the "World Changing Ideas" feature ( Download this podcast ). 

HorizonWatching: Top Ten Friday Gadget Posts From 2009

On Fridays I usually publish a post on some type of current gadget or prototype of an innovation.  The idea is to have a little fun on Fridays, but also take a time to think about how these innovations can make our lives easier in the future.   

Here’s my top ten favorite Friday Gadget posts from 2009

  1. Friday Gadget: ProDigits – The Partial Hand Solution – A Bionic Hand solution that works
  2. Friday Gadget: Solar Impulse Plane – A plane that runs on solar power
  3. Friday Gadget: The Recon Scout Rescue Miniature, Mobile Reconnaissance Device – A small robot with camera and sensors for disaster relief
  4. Friday Gadget: City-Sheet e-paper concept  -  epaper will become a reality someday.  This is one idea how we’ll use it.
  5. Friday Gadget: High Speed Robot Hand – Research into sensors, using a robotic hand.
  6. Friday Gadget: i-Real Personal Mobility Device – Say goodbye to wheelchairs.
  7. Friday Gadget: Disaster Relief Quadcopter Robot – Deploy a communication network in an instant with miniature helicopters
  8. Friday Gadget: The Snuza Halo – Protecting babies in their cribs
  9. Friday Gadget: The Hummingbird Robot – Research is progressing into smaller and smaller flying robots.  The nano helicopter is around the corner.
  10. Friday Gadget:  Terrafugia's Transition Car Plane – Great idea for those who live in rural areas with big ranches and farms.

So there you have it.  I’ll be continuing to feature feature these types of posts in 2010.  Come to the blog on a Friday and you will usually see a Friday gadget post.

Friday Gadget: Solar Impulse Plane

solar_plane2 

I think we all agree that we need to figure out how to harness more of the sun’s energy, but I’m wondering how many of you would get on a plane powered by the sun?  Solar power has already been used to power unmanned aircraft, but the challenge of hauling a heavy human up into the atmosphere remains more daunting.  

There’s a company by the name of Solar Impulse is currently testing their solar-powered plane they call HB-SIA.  Solar Impulse’s stated goal is to build and fly a human piloted solar powered plane around the world. 

The current HB-SIA prototype features four electric motors.  The aircraft’s wingspan is as wide as a jumbo jet (to provide maximum solar panel space), but thanks to space-age carbon-fiber materials only weighs as much as a mid-sized car.

In a few weeks the plane is scheduled to attempt a very short flight where it will lift off the runway no more than 10 feet and then land again, to see how it behaves at the beginning of the flight.”  Then in February the plan is to take the plane up for a full flight.   After that, there are plans for some longer flights. 

Still there is lots of testing before an around the world flight can be attempted.  For the plane to make it around the world, it will have to fly at night.  Batteries are charged during the day by the sun and then used to power night time flight.  

For more, see  http://www.solarimpulse.com.   For videos, check out http://www.solarimpulse.com/sitv/index.php

From old to new, and a smarter planet

via www.youtube.com

Found this interesting video on the IBM developerworks site. The title, "From old to new, and a smarter planet" describes not only the scene we see, but what we don't see.

developerWorks' Scott Laningham is our host for the less than 2 minute video which plays out on the roads of West Texas. He just couldn't pass up the symbolism of the setting — old oil wells rimmed by miles of wind turbines.

This past weekend, I was driving from St. Louis to Chicago and also saw miles and miles of wind turbines off in the distance. To some these are an eyesore, but to me they represent our future.

At the end of the video, Scott makes a plug for the Smarter Planet demo series on developerWorks. www.ibm.com/developerworks/

House Passes Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2009

Wind energy currently makes up 2% of the total energy generation in the United States, but there is the potential for it to provide up to 20% with the right improvements in turbine technology, forecasting, energy storage, and expansion of transmission systems.

So it is great to see that the U.S. lawmakers are starting to focus on this area.  Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2009.  The bill, if eventually signed into law, would authorize a comprehensive program to improve the efficiency, reliability and cost effectiveness of domestic wind energy systems.

The bill would authorize the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program of research and development to improve the energy efficiency, reliability, and capacity of wind turbines; optimize the design and adaptability of wind energy systems; and reduce the cost of construction, generation, and maintenance of wind energy systems.

Specifically, this program would include:

  • Examination of new materials and designs to make larger, lighter, less expensive, and more reliable motor blades
  • Technologies to improve gearbox performance and reliability
  • Technologies to improve transmission from remotely located renewable resource rich areas
  • Low-cost transportable towers greater than 100 meters in height
  • Advanced computational modeling tools, control systems, blade sensors and advanced generators
  • Wind technology for offshore applications
  • Automation, materials, and assembly of large-scale components
  • Methods to assess and mitigate the effects of wind energy systems on radar and electromagnetic fields
  • Wind turbines with a maximum electric power production capacity of 100 kilowatts or less

The bill authorizes $200 million dollars per year from 2010 through 2014 for these programs.

Let’s hope this bill, or something like it, makes it way into law.

For more information

8 Emerging CleanTech Investment Areas

A new report is claiming that, with an aggressive infrastructure investment, eight emerging technologies could meet 60 % of new energy demand by 2020.  It is also claiming that we could abate more CO2 than is necessary for climate stabilization in just 10 years.  

The report, titled  "The Gigaton Throwdown", was developed with the support of many, many people who are tied to the cleantech industry.  The effort was led, in part, by Sunil Paul, who is a founder of Silicon Valley’s Spring Ventures.

The report estimates that if annual global private investment in cleantech tripled between now and 2020, clean energy investments would be in line with fossil-fuel investments.   It is a lofty goal, but the authors say that if we are able to shift investment into ready cleantech solutions, the results would be world changing:  climate mitigation, energy security and 5 million new jobs planetwide.

The report highlights the eight emerging clean technology solution areas that are ready for investment and could yield the stated goals.

  1. Biofuels
  2. Building Efficiency
  3. Concentrating Solar Power
  4. Construction Materials
  5. Geothermal
  6. Nuclear
  7. Solar Photovoltaics
  8. Wind

According to the report each of the eight solutions listed above could feasibly deliver one giagaton of global energy, and each could avoid one gigaton of emissions from being discharged into the atmosphere by 2020, thus the idea for the name of the report.

Apparently the authors considered plug-in electric vehicles , but the projected adoption of this technology is predicted to be too slow to have an impact by 2020.

For more information:

2009 Venture Capital Investment Survey by Deloitte and NVCA

Deloitte and the NVCA  released their annual Venture Capital global survey findings last month.  The report found that (not surprising) VC firms have been cutting back in their funding of startups.   While it has been a difficult recession, the industry is making some adjustments.

Some summary findings

  • Portfolio Pruning.  51%  are decreasing the number of companies in which they plan to invest and just 13 percent are increasing this activity.
  • Cleantech:  The clean tech sector is poised to become the leading investment category.  Overall 60% of respondents say that cleantech investments are on the rise.  Among U.S., UK and Israeli investors, about half expect to increase their investments in cleantech, while about seven out of 10 AP respondents and European respondents expect their cleantech investments to increase.
  • Globalization:  Globalization of the venture capital industry will intensify in coming years, posing significant competitive questions for the United States, and opportunities for emerging markets such as China.
  • Regional Investments:  Investment levels are more likely to increase in countries outside the United States.  Governments of all countries have a crucial role to play in fostering competitiveness and innovation.  Specific findings include that 52% of the survey respondents are currently investing outside their home countries.  19% of respondents expressed that investment levels will rise in Israel,  50% believe that investment will increase in Asia (excluding India); 43% in India; 36% in South America; 25% in Europe and the UK; and 17% in North America.
  • Government:   66% of venture capitalists would like a tax break from their respective governments. 40% believe that government support for entrepreneurial activity is important; 31% would like governments to encourage more active public markets; and 29 percent believe improved access to private capital sources will help better support innovation.
  • Investment Timing:   According to 51% of the VCs, now is a good time to invest. Only 6 percent believe that it is not a good time to make investments.

The 2009 Global Venture Capital Survey was conducted in the first quarter of 2009 and measured the opinions of more than 700 venture capitalists worldwide.  To view the full survey results visit: 2009 Global Trends in Venture Capital

AIAA: Top Ten Emerging Aerospace Technologies

imageLast month, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) released a list of top emerging aerospace technologies.  The AIAA hopes to make this an annual list. 

Here is the list of ten

  1. 'Greener' aviation technologies – including emission reduction and noise reduction technologies as used in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)'s Continuous Low Emissions, Energy and Noise (CLEEN) program, and the European Environmentally Friendly Engine (EFE) program and Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative.   For more see this AIAA press release.
  2. Alternative fuels – including biofuels, as promoted by the FAA's Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), and the recent FAA grant to the X Prize Foundation to spur development of renewable aviation fuels and technologies.  For more see this AIAA press release.
  3. High speed flight technologies – such as supersonic and hypersonic aerodynamics, sonic boom reduction technology, and thermal management aids.   For more reading, check out Supersonic travel may return
  4. Efficient propulsion technologies – including open rotors and geared turbofans, such as those used in the European DREAM (valiDation Radical Engine Architecture systems) program.
  5. Active flow technologies – such as plasma actuators.
  6. Advanced materials – such as nanotechnology and composites.
  7. Active structures – such as shape memory alloys, morphing, and flapping.
  8. Health management – such as monitoring, prognostics, and self-healing.
  9. Remote sensing technologies – including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellites such as those used in NASA's Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) program.
  10. Advanced space propulsion technologies – including plasma-based propulsion such as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, and solar sail technologies.

You can access a pdf of the AIAA announcement here AIAA Names Top Ten Emerging Aerospace Technologies of 2009:  Download PDF

Shifts in Cleantech Financing

This blog brings significant updates to my previous two blogs on Cleantech showing (1) that after a strong 2008, 1Q09 Cleantech investments have dropped and (2) the important role of Cleantech in the stimulus plans.


  1. The Cleantech Group released 1Q09 VC investments in Cleantech which show a 45% drop compared to the previous quarter and a 48% drop compared to 1Q08.  The average round size dropped from  $20M in 3Q08 to $12.3M in 1Q09.  The report underlines that “Cleantech financing is moving into a new phase characterized by diversified funding sources as global recession and liquidity issues impact venture investors.  Venture funds continue to invest significant sums, albeit at a slower pace and scale”.  Utilities and corporations are increasingly playing a leadership role in developing the sector. 
  2. Meanwhile governments globally are allocating historic amounts of capital to clean technology through stimulus packages.  I should have added to my blog last week that the report “Towards a Green recovery” estimates that $400M  of  $2.6T spent in economic stimulus by G20 are earmarked for clean tech such as renewable energy, improved grids and cleaner cars. In the US, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill places Cleantech as a key driver of economic stabilization and job growth.  The measures (Over 10% of the total spending) target doubling renewable energy generating capacity (wind, solar, and geothermal).  Provisions also target efficiency, expanded electricity grids including advances metering, energy management SW and usage monitoring sensors.

The credit squeeze has challenged sectors such as wind and solar, stalling new and expansion projects.   The industry is still looking for clarity on how a new Treasury grant program will work.  Financing of projects slated to go forward is still taking extra time to get done.  The stimulus has generated more activity if not yet money for the renewable s sector.

 

Green Recovery?

 

A couple weeks ago, I discussed some trends in VC investments regarding Cleantech.  For the G20 summit early April, the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment published a very interesting document about the potential for a green recovery from the current recession.  (Towards a global Green Recovery) 


The report shows that “Public spending aimed at stimulating private investments that help reducing greenhouse gas emissions can perform very well against criteria for an effective stimulus while providing the additional benefits of lower energy costs and increased energy security.  By focusing on correcting well known market failures in energy use and R&D, it can avoid crowding out private sector activity.  In fact, green recovery programs have the potential to stimulate private investment in low carbon technologies, thereby developing new opportunities for employment, innovation, and wealth creation.”  The report also highlighted key measures that the G20 could take, including physical infrastructure upgrades, energy efficiency increases, and potential flagship project investments. 


So what happened?  The G20 communique included $1.1B in plan pledges – $750B for the IMF, $250B for trade and financing – as well as motions for stricter regulations on hedge funds and banks.  While many groups are arguing that a larger GDP share should go towards green initiatives, others are satisfied that those notions have become mainstream.  Personally, I think that the economic situation is such that priorities will focus on the fastest way to accelerate the recovery, possibly at the expense, at least initially, of green.